Habit Loops

charles duhigg habit loop habits habits for success leadership Oct 11, 2022
Habit Loops

Think about the habits you have formed that lead directly to your success. Then, think about the habits you have that keep you from succeeding at the level you should. Each of our good or bad habits gives us a reward for their implementation. Procrastination gives us relief right now from thinking about what needs to be done. The habit of getting the most important things done in our day before we do anything else gives us the reward of succeeding. Both are rewards. Both are connected to learned behaviors.

In the human brain, the orbitofrontal cortex sits right above the orbits, or eyes, in the brain. It is responsible for processing sensory and emotional inputs. As it takes in information, it either pushes that information down neuropathways that we have formed or seeks a way to create meaning. When we have a consistently positive emotional experience from an activity, the brain learns that this is a reward we want regularly. Therefore, it seeks out a cue or activating event to connect the reward to. It then builds a habit loop using learned behaviors. The learned behaviors are the bridge between what cued up the action and what reward was felt.

As we form habits in our lives, our brains require less and less conscious thought to trigger action. We hear a chime on our phones that we have learned is an incoming email, so we reach for our phone to check it. We don’t have to think about what we are doing, we just have the habit of doing that when that particular chime is noticed. We might have the habit of going to the gym at the end of the workday and exercising because of the reward of feeling better or reducing stress. Good habits are measured in their positive outcomes in our lives. Bad habits are measured in their negative consequences on our lives. Both are just habits, though.

The key to changing a habit is to notice the start of the habit loop sequence. When we pay attention to how we automatically react to certain triggers, we can begin to dissect the meaning we have given to the trigger. We then focus on changing the meaning of the trigger. When we change the meaning, we change the habit. Keep in mind that our brains have learned the meaning by bridging the cue to the reward with actions. Right as the cue happens, we flash the meaning in our minds. Think about a habit you would like to change. What happens when the habit is put into practice? What meaning have you given to that time of day, event, or interaction? What would be a better meaning you could establish that would naturally change the action you took? Find that, and you find your path to greater success.

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